Hi Adam, here's the final assignment for the summer semester course. I had an enjoyable time working with you and I'd like to wish you all the best with both your current thesis and future endeavors. Here's the assignment, another copy has been emailed to you.
Two distinct views of how people adapt to the internet and their usage of it are those of Prensky (2004) who discusses ‘digital natives’ using the internet to communicate freely and happily and Weinberger (2002) with his view that the internet is so different to the physical world, so chaotic, that it is changing the way in which we communicate with the world around us. He suggests that the internet is basically just another tool with which people use to communicate with each other. This paper will examine these two approaches and discuss whether one is more accurate than the other or whether there are other reasons and explanations.
Change, and how people cope with it, has long been researched and commented on by both professionals such as sociologists and psychologists, as well as the ordinary person in the street. They attempt to describe both what change is as well as how different people cope with it, usually in an attempt to understand how some people cope easily and enjoy change and others are annoyed or so distressed by it that they choose to reject the new process.
One of the biggest changes to modern life has been the introduction of the means of fast and international communication via the internet. From its earliest days the internet has evolved from a curiosity used only by scientists and the military to an everyday item used, and abused, by vast numbers of people (Slevin, 2000; Surratt, 2001).
While Prensky’s view of the digital native is an excellent description of people who are naturally comfortable with new technologies, where his argument fails is in his division of people into either young students, digital natives and older people, the digital immigrants. He actually divides them into students and parents in his paper which tends to position his argument solely into a world where students (natives) are young and rebellious and parents (immigrants) are old-fashioned and unable to keep up.
Prensky writes that a person not born into the digital world not only is not comfortable with the technology of the internet but in fact uses it differently and to a lesser extent than the natives. He suggests that the use of blogs (diaries on the web) by the immigrants is different to those of the natives. The immigrants use them as an intellectual sharing tool rather than a diary usage of personal thoughts and experiences, ‘emotion vs intellect’.
However, it seems that he ignores the thousands of people other than students, using blogs as diaries and social networking. Feizy (2007) found that Myspace alone had 186 million accounts and the top ten social networking sites have grown 47% in the last year, giving over 132 million users just in these alone Given these large numbers it is surely limiting to say they are only being used by teens. (http://socialsoftware.weblogsinc.com/2006 ).It is interesting to note that a simple and quick search produced a shared diary for an organization for women over fifty (http://birdsofafeather61615.spaces.live.com ), a site for people discussing camping (www.campertrailers.org ), a forum for parents with new babies (www.bubhub.com.au/community ) and a site for people with a particular medical condition (www.gilbertsyndrome.org.uk) . Of the people using these sites, most are definitely older than their teens and are using the sites for socializing, sharing information and diary use.
In support of this, Feizy found that only 62% of profiles on Myspace were people between teens and early twenties while Hargittai (2007) found that the use of these sites is not restricted to a particular group and that participation has more to do with gender, race and ethnicity. It is interesting though that many still view these sites as being solely for young people. Godwin (2006) describes Myspace as the teenage social site but then goes on to describe Facebook as the academic social networking site. Using the term ‘academic’ suggests people across a range of ages.
Hills and Briggs (2006) are currently studying a sample of users in a social networking community and state the age range is 15 – 55. They plan to explore the relationships between age and personality development, suggesting that usage of these sites reflects systematic personality changes that are observable over a person’s lifespan, that in fact it may be just another manifestation of normal human development. Kittinger (2007) goes further, he suggests that the reason that there are some who thrive in this new environment and some who are preyed upon and eventually vanish is more to do with evolution than anything else; survival of the fittest in the virtual jungle.
Buckingham (2006) believes that the distinction between ages needs to be reworked, that even in computer games, which are frequently identified as being for children only, it was found that the average age of game players is now 30 years. He goes on to say that maybe the term ‘digital generation’ is more appropriate, defined through its relationship with a particular technology rather than simply the age of the user.
Weinberger’s point of view of the internet and its effect on people has more to do with how it has changed communication. He considers that the internet is basically just another tool that people use, along with all other modes of communication and that the internet is a process rather than an end in itself. However, he goes on to say that while at first greater freedom to communicate would indicate greater freedom for communication, this tool is actually causing problems. With greater freedom comes greater responsibility; as time passes and more people get connected to the internet the demand for regulation will grow.
While Prensky describes his natives as participating in a range of creative activities, sharing information and meeting each other on the internet, he omits to mention any of the negatives of this behaviour. Weinberger takes the view that not all people on the internet are using it for their own and others good, that many times people have difficulty in drawing the line between private and public communication as well as what is real and what is not. He continues by describing how this blurring of divisions affects just about every part of the internet, that our expectations are upset and that there are so many anomalies that we are fatigued by them.
This perspective is supported by Savolainen (2007) who discusses information overload and the strategies users must adopt to cope with the large amount of information gained by using the internet. He found that people use two major strategies to cope with this, filtering the information or withdrawing from it.
It is interesting to note however, that Anderson and Tracey (2002) found that use of the internet and the impact of it on people’s lives was more to do with lifestyle and life stages rather than just the acquisition of a connection. People were more likely to use it to do something in particular, that people shouldn’t be classified generically as internet users and that the average internet user does not exist. Buckingham supports this by stating that most people are not interested in the technology as such but in what they can do with it.
It is suggested that the biggest change people experience as they use the internet is the way in which they view themselves and their world. Weinberger suggests that the internet is in fact changing the concepts of what we used to take for granted as defining self. Networking technologies and virtual spaces have allowed people to become free from the physical world that binds them, and allows us them recreate their ideal selves without any of the limitations faced in physical form.
Feizy supports this when she describes how many users of social networking sites hide their location, use fabricated names and will often use a fake photo or image. This can be observed across a range of social networking sites. For example, in a group of university students currently using blogs to post assignments, some used a fabricated name, location and interests in their user profile where others used their own name, personal details and real images. There was no discussion regarding why some would choose to use their own personal details and some would not, the group automatically accepted it as the individual’s choice.
(http://bobsblogger.blogspot.com, http://therockchickblog.blogspot.com, http://cubiccommblog.blogspot.com, http://leebirdie.blogspot.com, http://melissamu.blogspot.com, http://www.queenfan98.blogspot.com).
Prensky, in his description of his digital natives socializing on the internet describes them as believing the online contacts are as real as any face-to-face ones. He actually continues by suggesting that because the online relationships are only based on what is said and produced on the screen, ‘lookism status’, without any of the other social cues that come with face-to-face contact, that somehow these will be more reputable.
In the group of university students mentioned above, all were able to meet face-to-face, however, some still used fabricated identities even though there was no attempt to hide either their blog or their identity and without any consideration that either real name or fabricated name blog had more authenticity than the other.
Wong (2000) takes this a step further and describes how identity on the internet has become mobile, that this is not so much freedom but rather a way of transcending bodily prejudices. However, she continues by stating that even though the mobility of identity can allow for more acceptances of experimentation and ambiguity, it can also create more anxiety.Prensky and his digital natives and immigrants has divided the users of the internet into either young students immersing themselves happily and successfully into it and their older parents adapting with difficulty and suspicion. He further takes this to suggest that the digital natives have used their online life as an entire strategy for how to live, survive and thrive, that without it they don’t exist. He also considers that there is such a difference between how his two groups use the internet that it creates dissonance and disconnectedness.
Others, such as Weinberger, Feizy and Savolainen, however don’t take such an extreme and pessimistic view. They consider that while the internet and its constraints force people to do things differently, that age does not play such a large part in these differences but rather the use that people put it to, the internet is just another tool in their daily lives.
Just like any aspect of human life, the internet is constantly changing and evolving as people adapt it to suit themselves and their needs. Because of this and because the changes are so rapid, there is no one way in which to define a typical user. While Prensky divides his users into natives and immigrants using age as the defining factor, it would be truer to say that this alone does not define a user. Just as humans are all different ages, educational backgrounds, genders, races in the real world, so too will they be different, whether through the use of real profiles or fabricated ones, when using the internet.
Buckingham, D. (2006). Is there a digital generation? In Buckingham, D., & Willett, R. (Eds). (2006). Digital generations.
Godwin, P. (2006). Information literacy in the age of amateurs. Retrieved 6 December, 2007, from. http://www.ics.heacadaemy.ac.uk/italics/vol5iss4/godwin.pdf
Hargattai, E. (2007). Whose space? Differences among users and non-users of social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1). (Electronic version).
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Kittinger, R. (2007) Social behaviour of internet users.
Retrieved 6 December, 2007, from http://www.auburnmedia.com/pdf/kittinger_web_2.0.pdf
Prensky. M. (2004). The emerging online life of the digital native. Retrieved 6 December, 2007, from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky-The_Emerging_Online_Life_of_the_Digital_Native-03.pdf
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